"How can we find new ways to stop prejudice?"
This is a vital question.
Bias hurts both the general public and specific communities. The American Muslim community, in particular, has been exploring new ways of addressing Islamophobia -- the irrational fear of Muslims.
At ILLUME Magazine, an award-winning digital news outlet that comes from the American Muslim experience, we've seen a number of imaginative answers to anti-Muslim stereotypes.
We were surprised, however, when we learned about Muslims For Liberty (M4L), a group of Muslim libertarians that challenges Islamophobes on their political home turf.
M4L goes to conservative, libertarian and right-of-center groups, giving presentations on Islam and American liberty.
One does not have to agree with their politics to appreciate their approach. It's an easy temptation to duck hard questions. There's even been controversy about whether a few American Muslims have been "Uncle Toms" in conservative circles.
M4L, however, takes a "no compromise" approach. On the issue of shariah (Islamic religious code or Islamic law), they deconstruct simplistic stereotypes. They argue the historic mainstream of Muslim scholars does not look at law mechanically.
Rather, it approaches shariah within the context of primary goals (maqasid al-shariah), such as the preservation of life, mind and family, among others. M4L argues this method correlates with John Locke's philosophy of rights to life, liberty and property, which became the foundation for the Bill of Rights and limited government.
One might agree or disagree with this. But it's a different kind of argument, and it makes people think.
In the most dramatic example, Will Coley, M4L's 31-year-old founder and director, had extensive discussions with Tea Party groups in East Tennessee. He welcomed any questions.
In the end, he persuaded 12 out of 14 Tea Party groups not only to avoid attacking Islam as a tactic, but to oppose a "shariah ban" measure publically.
Coley, a libertarian and American Muslim, had started doing this work on his own. But when word spread about it, he attracted support from the small but growing community of Muslim libertarians. The result was M4L, a grass-roots organization that now has chapters in several states and in Australia, Malaysia and Pakistan.
ILLUME Magazine is non-partisan, so we stay neutral on ideological debates. We did, however, think this story was noteworthy.
First, it illustrates how there can be a variety of ways to answer questions about Islam. American Muslims, like everybody else, are diverse. This diversity is an advantage. It allows for flexibility and open mindedness in political debates.
Second, it illustrates why we should not dismiss any group. Skepticism about Islam may be stronger on the right, but that side of the spectrum is not monolithic.
As Hesham El-Meligy, an M4L leader says, "No one is conservative on everything and no one is liberal on everything; we are but a rainbow, within ourselves and on our planet, so let's make it better for everyone."